Subverting hardcore Hip Hop’s stone-faced severity with gallows humor and inebriated indifference, Cypress Hill is more mischievous than dangerous, opting instead for a comedy of excesses, both in piercing sound wave and nihilistic subject matter. What they sacrifice in realism they gain in artistic freedom, allowing for a debut full of focused chaos, flailing wildly between exploitative killing spree, bleary-eyed parody and loose-bootied anarchy.
Acting as head agitator and primary vocalist, B-Real forces out each syllable with nasal drawl and arrogant sneer, both mimicking and embodying the tenets of a gangster rapper. Taking inspiration from the absurdist humor of Cheech & Chong and confrontational delivery of Jello Biafra, Real spins street narratives both strikingly vivid and playfully comic, nearly always ending with violent death bordering on caricature (i.e. “broomstick up your a**”).
In contrast to his penchant for employing shock tactics, Real’s moments of hallucinatory wordplay, usually relating to his passion for cannabis sativa, make for tightly-woven, meticulous poetry. “Light Another” finds him detailing the body’s reactions to huge waves of marijuana smoke, moving from trembling lungs to scorched windpipe to cellular damage. His contemplative passages are just as striking, taking astute and informed stances on prison culture, government corruption (particularly in the police force) and environment influencing behavior.
Feeding off of B-Real’s intensity, DJ Muggs constructed a sound scape of polar opposites, marrying gnarled, fun house psych loops with squeezed bass lines and woody, cavernous percussion. Further contorting the composition, his choruses are less hook than messy collage of word and instrument, comprised of sampled non-sequiters, ecstatic funk riffs and slurred record scratching. Muggs makes murder danceable and accessible, perverting chestnuts like Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl” into brainwashed melodies, lulling the oft-stoned listener into full compliance atop a bed of bubbly static and upbeat high-hat.
“How I Could Just Kill A Man” is just as dichotomous, radically manipulating its samples into a piece somehow still firmly rooted in contemporary pop. Backed by a loop of whiny white noise, like a far off signal from a fading AM radio station, Muggs continues with his motif of coupling the shrill and the subdued, adding a layer of rich blues guitar pluck and thumping, low-end drum stomp to the mix. Jimi Hendrix’s caterwauling guitar from “Are You Experienced” adds a heightened sense of menace to the proceedings, as does B-Real’s postured take on the right to bear arms. Puffing out his chest and brandishing his “chrome” like a cop flashes a badge, B acts as an unsympathetic assassin, revelling in the cartoonish nihilism of his lyrics, with Muggs’ grooves acting as an accessory.
Even more jarring than B-Real’s moral vacuousness is the mid-track breakdown of warped flute and creepy carnival organ. As if impoliteness and anti-authoritarian attitudes didn’t already align Cypress Hill to the Angelino hardcore that predated Hip Hop’s West Coast migration, the curious tempo shifts, horror flick atmospherics and penchant for Juvenalian satire are a direct link.
Concise and unwaveringly resolute, Cypress Hill single-handedly modified LA street rap just like they modified their shotguns, relieving it of its self-seriousness and replacing it with caustic wit and the macabre melody of a nursery rhyme.